Friday, January 12, 2007


Christmas presents included a goldious necklace, custom ordered by the Dude from a pendant in carnelian quartz representing a Tiki god. Tiki mythology redlines Polynesia's history. It was imported into the U.S. after WWII, as described in Sven Kirsten's excellent Book of Tiki:
Tiki is the manifestation of exotic visions of island culture borrowed from tales told by American soldiers stationed in the South Pacific during WWII: trees loaded with exotic fruits, sleepy lagoons, white sand beaches, and gorgeous people wearing grass feathers as they danced half naked during all night orgies of food and music. Americans seized these visions and incorporated fantasy into reality: mid-century fashion, popular music, eating and drinking; even architecture were influenced by Tiki.
The trend took off in the 1950s as a newfound Garden of Eden, especially in the "dream destinations" of California and Florida:
Americans were ready to reap the rewards of the hard work that brought them economic affluence and independence. The Puritan work ethic that had gotten them thus far also brought a whole package of social and moral restrictions which limited their freedom to enjoy prosperity [...] Tiki was associated with an artistic, bohemian lifestyle and a whimsical, playful attitude [...] It became de rigueur to have a striking tribal art piece to break the monotony of your contemporary living room decor.
One of Tiki's greatest emissaries is no less than L.A.'s Trader Vic, who built his namesake empire of lounges around the Polynesian theme.
Tiki lost its appeal in the 1960s, and got denounced as imperialistic by the flower generation, who rejected the elder's way of life and exotic tastes. Since then, Tiki has been frowned upon as Polynesian Pop, Primitive Kitsch, Tacky Tiki. Kirsten's book starts with Picasso's very à-propos quote: "Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness." That's the thing about Tiki: it's fun, humorous, irreverant -- and beautiful.
Not very much remains of the Tiki culture, which is why The Book of Tiki is admirable. Kirsten sees himself as an urban archeologist, "exploring the lost remnants of the Tiki culture across the United States and discovering relics from this forgotten civilization in thrift stores, yard sales, and used book and record emporia." It doesn't hurt that his book is beautifully illustrated with Taschen's usual brio.
Tiki has retained its reputation as the porte-bonheur of surfers, aka the god of big surf. Dudes sporting a Tiki necklace can still be spotted jumping in the water for da wave. A final, kitschy note: Wikipedia describes carnelian as "a particular shade of the color red, which is the official shade of Campbell's Soup." Pop, vous avez dit Pop?
necklace photo LA Frog / modified illustrations from The Book of Tiki